Ghosts of place : displacement and identity in the work of Ori Gersht

Stara, Alexandra (2015) Ghosts of place : displacement and identity in the work of Ori Gersht. In: Pultz Moslund, Sten , Ring Petersen, Anne and Schramm, Moritz, (eds.) The culture of migration: politics, aesthetics and histories. London, U.K. : I. B. Tauris. pp. 257-269. ISBN 9781784533106


This paper was selected for publication from a major refereed conference of the Network for Migration and Culture with the Danish Network for Cultural Memory Studies at the University of Copenhagen (5-7 Dec 2012), including international authorities in the field Edward S. Casey and Nikos Papastergiadis, also included in the publication. The paper presents new research on contemporary artistic representations of historical migration and memory and how they contribute to the development of innovative ways of understanding the ambiguities of place and belonging. The photographs and films of artist Ori Gersht (b. 1967, Israel), considered in this theoretical context for the first time, provide the focus of the paper’s investigation into a central challenge of migratory aesthetics: the concept of ‘place’ as a palpable absence. Unlike studies of photography and film as record and testimony of migration and diaspora – such as those presented by other authors in this volume – this paper uses philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s concept of trace to argue for the unique insights offered by an artistic gaze that addresses the theme of displacement and loss obliquely, without depicting action, but engaging in a poetic play of association through enigmatic landscapes and fragmentary landmarks. The paper makes the original proposition that, in Gersht’s images, the investment in indeterminacy and concealment for the depiction of loci of human suffering – Sarajevo, Krakow/Auschwitz, Gaza/Israel, among others – engenders the revelation of otherwise inaccessible meaning. Drawing from theories in the broader humanities including literature studies, the paper brings to bear on visual art an interdisciplinary hermeneutic methodology, and argues that by seeking to depict loss as a presence and the paradoxical quest for identity at the sites of its uprooting, photography can open up new pathways for a dialectic of imagination and memory in art.

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